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All of Martin’s coverage of Kendal Calling 2014 is this way.
After Suede at Kendal Calling 2014, it’s time for Mr Scruff to funk the night away. The very definition of ubiquitous, the unassuming, ginger-bearded figure of Scruff is in real danger of becoming one of those strange beasts – the Super-DJ. Presumably only his down-to-Earth Mancunian work ethic prevents him from descending into David Guetta-style hedonism, a tendency encapsulated by his enthusiasm for a nice cup of tea.
The genius of Scruff’s performance can be summed up in three words: take your time. When thought of on the scale of an individual song, his build-ups give gentle but persistent encouragement. Each 2-, 4-, and 8-bar loop carry subtle variations: very rarely is anything repeated verbatim. The same attention to detail can be heard on the wider scale of a whole set: there’s an underlying breakbeat backbone to pretty much everything that he does, overlaid with various magpie samples and synth melodies.
There are occasional acid house tropes, like on 2011’s ‘Wobble Control’, where he threatens to throw caution to the wind and take refuge in cliché, but never does the temptation manifest itself into anything as common as a four-to-the-floor beat: he remains focussed on the funk throughout. The only criticism to be levelled at Scruff is that he’s a bit of a tease – because he’s so good at buildups, he won’t let himself really come to a climax, which as you can imagine can be somewhat frustrating. Indeed, some of his set tonight is dull to the point of becoming muzak. Only the ever-present childlike cartoon visuals provide something for the brain to do whilst the feet move as instructed by the beat, without any intervention of the intellect. Having said that, Scruff is the consummate professional and can be relied upon to get a tent jigging around like mad things, so perhaps repetition is indeed the essence of dance music. Who knew?
Etches are the lovechild of an electronica band and a conventional guitar-led indie outfit. Their songs are complex, structurally unconventional and melodically oblique. Being based in Liverpool, there’s naturally a hint of psych buried deep within their sound, all of which combines to birth a song like ‘The Charm Offensive’, which soars through the ether like a deranged seagull. The highlight of their set is a slowcore version of Marvin Gaye’s ‘I Heard It Through the Grapevine’, which is quietly astonishing.
If Etches have a hint of psych, The Lucid Dream have it running through their veins and printed through their marrow like a stick of paisley Blackpool rock. 2011’s ‘Heartbreak Girl’ is a noisy, scally cousin to Pink Floyd’s ‘See Emily Play’, with speed-ups and slow-downs galore and an utterly incomprehensible arrangement. Fast-forward to 2013’s ‘Songs of Lies and Deceit’, on which the folk-tinged lunacy gives way to full-on electric guitar stomp, absolutely swimming in reverb, echo and delay. Mark Emmerson swaggers around the stage like Liam Gallagher does in his own lucid dreams, when he imagines he’s actually cool and popular again. A somewhat bizarre melodica interlude notwithstanding (is there any less rock ‘n’ roll instrument than the melodica?) The Lucid Dream are perhaps the find of the weekend. A set of world-class psychedelia from a bunch of Cumbrian scallys – who’d a thunk it?
Perhaps I’m biased due to the Northeast roots of Gallery Circus, but by crikey they make a brilliant, cerebrally-challenging racket. To pigeonhole them as yet another novelty bassless duo would be in itself baseless; perhaps due to their being twins, Daniel and Graeme Ross have a psychic awareness of what the other is about to play, which means they are one of the most telepathically sharp bands one could hope to see. Their own songs are superb – from the patchwork virtuoso hard rock of ‘Supercell’, to the illegally funky white soul of ‘Club House Killer’, they know how to write a tune – and they know how to cover one too. Climaxing with a rendition of ‘Ziggy Stardust’ could be a recipe for disaster, given the regard in which the original classic is held – needless to say their cover is superb, respectful and note-perfect. They are well deserving of their BBC Introducing at Glastonbury shout this year – on this evidence, the first of many.
Razorlight were present and correct. An uncomfortable moment at the beginning of the set notwithstanding (Johnny Borrell’s guitar developed a fault in the first song and he spent the rest of it flouncing grumpily, directing evil stares at soundman and guitar tech alike), they sounded decent, looked every inch the sharp rock ‘n’ roll band, and nobody can deny the merits of their back catalogue. Quite what relevance they carry beyond being their own tribute band remains to be seen – Kendal does have a penchant for greatest hits sets – but Borrell remains a compelling frontman, and the crowd seemed to lap it up.
Most British nu-folk-rock is a load of old twaddle. See Amber Run in the first part of this review for further details. So how refreshing it is to come across a band who manage to combine a stringed instrument that isn’t a guitar into a coherence that doesn’t rely on discredited, worn-out tropes. The Mispers have a lovely driving sound peppered with elements of genuine English folk music. There’s a smart young lady playing a fiddle, the chap singing manages to pull off wearing nothing but a waistcoat, there’s electronica bubbling under the surface, and some decent electric guitar when circumstances demand it. 2014 single ‘Brother’ is a perfect case in point. A lithe violin figure frames a musing on family which builds to a firm climax without relying on the tired and tiresome quiet-loud-quiet structure (as parodied so brilliantly by Dion Beary in his ‘Every Mumford And Sons Song Basically’ video). The Mispers prove that folk-rock can be done properly, and, basically, prove how right I’ve been all along. Ha. Thanks, The Mispers.
And then Evil Blizzard arrived and the review must draw to a close at this point. No matter how many fireworks or dancing monkeys might appear later on in the festival, there’s no point in even describing them – in comparison with Evil Blizzard, they are nary a footnote in musical history, a pale imitation of what can truly be achieved with fancy dress, latex face masks and four bass players. If it was about the music, one could say something like, “‘Clones’ combines Rocket From The Crypt’s ‘On a Rope’ guitar riff, Bon Jovi’s ‘Living on a Prayer’ key change and John Lydon’s Public Image Limited plaintive, detuned vocal howl to generate an ear-pounding four minutes of chaos.” But Evil Blizzard aren’t really about the music as such, in the same way that what you hear at a rave isn’t something you’d take away and sit down on your sofa and listen to with a nice cup of tea. It all only makes sense in context, with the perspective of appropriate surroundings, and more importantly, in the presence of other audience members, if only to remind oneself that what you’re experiencing isn’t some particularly cruel hallucination, a flashback from the previous night’s “adult disco”.
There’s no point in trying to describe what the band look like – words cannot adequately convey the psychological discomfort that their appearance engenders. They stand, staring, mute, firing chaos from their basses, challenging the audience to stay and imbibe rather than run and cry. The heavens open; the blizzard arrives. “Evil” masks are distributed, which is when things become further surreal. Children don the masks – we are surrounded by tiny, faceless, black-eyed beings, foreheads “Evil”-emblazoned, where just moments before there was a gaggle of carefree children playing in the mud. Some somehow end up onstage, invited to pluck bass guitars, and are then held aloft, in a celebration of the essential innocence of children, even when they are surrounded and encouraged by such ambiguous chaos.
The baby’s-head theremin is unveiled, the lead singer prowling amongst the crowd, inviting them to stroke it, and, inevitably, to lick the baby’s bare scalp – several ladies are happy to oblige, to a soundtrack of increasingly pained squeals from the baby. Bass guitars are offered around; the music climaxes; the frontman wanders off into the crowd to steal someone’s drink. Eventually the 20-minute ‘Whalebomb’ draws to a stumbling denouement; everyone slowly emerges from their bad dream, as if suddenly being woken from hypnotism, or stumbling to the end of a particularly bad trip. And for the select few who had braved the Evil Blizzard at Kendal Calling 2014, nothing would ever be quite the same again.
Those unfamiliar with the name Just Jack simply need to dig out his 2006 hit ‘Starz in Their Eyes’ for the glimmer of recognition to alight upon their auricles. Never one prone to bouts of prolificity, nevertheless his three albums in 7 years comprehensively describe the glowing centre of a Venn diagram where the dance, urban, pop and chill-out genres intersect. 2002’s ‘The Outer Marker’ is an evocative collection of comedown classics peppered with intelligent flow (“I loosen up your consciousness like a syrup of figs”), downtempo beats and great swathes of portentous synths. A little-known classic.
Jack moved away from post-club lethargy and headed towards the charts with 2007’s ‘Overtones’, the aforementioned ‘Starz’ popping up all over the place on TV trailers and soundtracks, a somewhat ironic state of affairs since the topic of the song is a knowing commentary on the dangers of the reality television machine. It netted him a silver disc, reaching #2 in the charts in the UK and Ireland, and it would become his best performing single.
2009’s ‘All Night Cinema’ continued the pin-sharp observational lyrics and his genre-skipping musical magpie habit. ‘The Day I Died’ is a curious choice for a single, a bittersweet description of a perfect day of the average man on the street – until he gets run over, that is. Elsewhere, ‘Doctor Doctor’ and ‘Goth in the Disco’ both describe the seamier side of nightclub culture, packed full of surreal imagery and with more than the sniff of chemically-enhanced personal experience. And that was it, a trifecta of albums demonstrating the singular genius of Just Jack, after which there were no more…
Thankfully for those partial to all things Just Jacksian, this week sees the release of a fresh four-track EP. The optimistically-titled ‘Winning’ sees him back to what he arguably does best: bedroom dance-tinged electronica, overlaid with his distinctive just-the-right-side-of-can’t-be-arsed vocal. These four songs are absolutely as good as anything he’s ever released. The title track is the obligatory observational pop song, sharp as ever. ‘Droids’ is the dancefloor classic, with disco intent in the massive bassline and an increasingly complex arrangement, Jack comes across as a barrow-boy Daft Punk. ‘Inside’ hints at dubstep orchestration, and sees him back at his downtempo best, with talk of endorphins and bed and breakfasts perfectly summarising the blend of ethereal and mundane that characterises the best of Just Jack’s work.
And is he really musically taking on the 21st century cult of religious extremism on ‘Minefield’? To a disco beat? It’s about time someone did. Extra merit points, Mr Allsop.
‘Winning’, the latest EP from Just Jack, is available for purchase in digital download format now at Jack’s Bandcamp.
Martin’s Day 1 roundup from
Kendal Calling 2014 is here.
There’s no doubting the scale of The Ramona Flowers‘ ambition – theirs is all big reverb and hanging guitar notes, large-scale emoting and words like “bittersweet”. There’s a common comparison with U2, which is fair enough, but in comparison the Flowers seem a touch lightweight: at least U2 managed to write about politics before moving on to songs which can be played at weddings. ‘Brighter’ is a spacey affair which manages to tick all the boxes of swirly, effected guitar, emo-pained yet meaningless vocal meanderings and a stadium-friendly drum track. Does the world need another bunch of U2 wannabes? Probably not, but the experience is pretty exhilarating while it lasts. Steve Bird is a strong frontman – which basically means he knows how good he looks and plays up to it – and the rest of the band bang out the massive tunes with competence and enthusiasm. If, like Professor Peach, you “like ’em big”, then The Ramona Flowers are where it’s at.
Amber Run (another set, another meaningless two-word band name) belong to that most dreary of genres: Quiet-Loud-Folksy-Rock-With-Big-Crescendos-And-Wide-Eyed-Faux-Innocent-Vocals. Even if this was your very first introduction to the wonders of live rock music, you’d still be forgiven for thinking “is that really it?”. ‘Spark’ has a pointless refrain of “let the light in”, repeated ad nauseum – a defining feature of the QLFRWBCAWEFIV genre. ‘Noah’ has all the other tropes – mildly ironic orchestral baubles (in this case, xylophone) and vowels stretched to the very limits of decency. They’re not as irritating as Eliza and the Bear, although that’s like saying syphilis is preferable to AIDS. Both to be avoided as much as practically possible.
We Were Evergreen do their thing, which is to be very funky and French indeed. We’ve covered them before at Deer Shed Festival (read about this year’s appearance here), so there’s no need to go into detail about their virtues again here, except to say that TGTF had a chat with them afterwards, so watch this space for that.
Thank goodness for Findlay, who can be relied upon to be a proper rock star. There’s more attitude in her slight frame than any number of mopey, reverbed boy bands. ‘Your Sister’ is even more acerbic live, the minimal band (another example of the current superfluosity of bassists) rocking hard to an ancient blues riff over lyrics heavy with innuendo. She breaks out the overdrive microphone for ‘Greasy Love’, which is still a very naughty piece of music, its references to sweaty sex just about as raunchy as rock gets right now, and its music is as dirty as its lyrical content. A new track called ‘Stoned and Alone’ is unleashed with the order, “if you’ve got a spliff, smoke it now!” to the raised eyebrows of security staff; what a rebel. If there’s a girl doing better blues-rock than Findlay right now, call the Guinness Book of Records.
Catfish and the Bottlemen pack the Calling Out tent, punters squelching around in boggy puddles on its periphery, desperate to catch a glimpse of a band that are shaping up to be the next big thing in mainstream rock. The stars were all aligning for their Kendal performance – their album about to drop, it was frontman Van McCann’s birthday, and he’d just exclusively revealed to TGTF that he’d like CATB to be bigger than Oasis. Fair enough. And on the evidence of today, their trajectory is indeed inexorably upwards. Their songs are adventurous yet simple: big choruses, hooky melodies, modestly sweary of lyric yet innocent of eye. There’s nothing groundbreaking here, no novel song arrangements, no obscure instrumentation, just a wall of guitars and an endearing mixture of humility and genuine cool from McCann. Back in March last year, TGTF declared “anyone pondering the future of British guitar music should add Catfish and the Bottlemen to the list”. Come 2014, not only are they on the list, they’re fighting hard to be at the top. Care to bet against them?
With their run of festival performances this summer, Suede have pulled off one of the most profound comebacks in recent memory. Not only are they generally regarded as being, if not quite the inventors of Britpop, then certainly the trailblazers, they have managed to resurrect a career that was in danger of becoming a footnote in pop music history – a blazing start followed by a long tail of increasing mediocrity. No longer. Following their superb comeback 2013 album ‘Bloodsports’, Suede have crafted a live show utterly worthy of a headline slot at any event in the world. Even (whisper it…) Glastonbury. Mumford and Sons? Give me a break.
After an appropriately long wait, a shadowy figure emerged from the depths of the stage to the mournful piano strains of ‘The Next Life’, a hugely brave move in front of a Northern festival crowd known for its rowdy enthusiasm. Impressively, the crowd was hushed and reverent as Brett Anderson knelt, almost foetus-like, his cracked falsetto hypnotising them into silence. A beautiful moment of Kendal history. But in a blink it was gone, replaced by a romp through 20 years of Suede history. They played more than half their debut album but just a single track from opus ‘Dog Man Star’, perhaps reinforcing this author’s opinion that, good though ‘Dog Man Star’ is, it’s ‘Suede’ that is a true pop-rock masterpiece, with the perfect combination of punk, pomp and peroxide, and much more relevant in the live arena.
There’s four tracks from ‘Coming Up,’ demonstrating just how valuable the first Oakes-written Suede album is to their back catalogue. The move to single-word song titles (‘Filmstar’, ‘Lazy’, ‘Trash’) neatly summarises the fresh, efficient, to-the-point Suede 2.0 which emerged from the ashes of the ‘Dog Man Star’ sessions – such songs are remarkably fizzy, electronically-enhanced shocks of guitar pop that still sound fresh and vital today. We also get this writer’s favourite ever Suede song, ‘Killing of a Flash Boy’, never released on a non-compilation album, but a perennial live favourite, a dystopian singalong with a similarly worrying video.
There really isn’t a comparable story in pop to that of Richard Oakes. Plucked from nowhere as a schoolboy with a penchant for playing Suede songs in his bedroom, his mimicry of Bernard Butler was astonishing then, and his ability to write original guitar parts in the true Suede style is nothing short of a musical miracle even now. His recent portliness may not be true to the skinny Suede style of old (Anderson, however, remains as sticklike as ever), but is at least a visual reminder of the years that have passed since his joining. Despite what many longstanding fans may want to believe, Oakes has been in the band almost three times as long as his predecessor, and is the true sound of modern Suede.
The high-water mark for Britpop reunions is arguably Blur’s performance at Glastonbury in 2009, with perhaps an honourable mention for Pulp at Primavera in 2011. The difference here is that Suede aren’t just doing a one-off gig or two, this tour has been going for the best part of a year, featuring several festival appearances. This a proper career reboot, and with a new album slated for 2015, Suede are proving that they’re not happy simply with inventing Britpop. They want to reinvent it too.
More from Martin on Kendall Calling 2014 will be on TGTF soon.
One only has to spend a handful of minutes in the presence of Catfish and the Bottlemen’s slight lead singer and head honcho Van McCann to be exposed to a masterclass in extrovert charm. Everyone he passes gets a smile and a friendly “Hello, how’re you doing?”, no matter whether they’re a fellow big-name musician or simply an anonymous scribe tapping away on a keyboard that he happens to be walking past. That it’s all done with such genuine humility and joie de vivre makes the experience utterly compelling – a quality that feeds back into the band’s live performance. Politicians could learn a thing or two from him about making friends and influencing people.
TGTF caught up with McCann just an hour or so before his band’s performance at Kendal Calling 2014, which would pack the Calling Out tent to such an extent that people were spilling out of its sides, braving torrential rain and a sloppy mudbath to catch a glimpse of who are sure to be one of 2015’s big headline acts in the making.
I was looking forward to seeing you last weekend at Deer Shed – why didn’t that work out?
I know mate, tell me about it. We’ve had a really bad 2 weeks. We missed Tramlines in Sheffield as well, which is one of my favourite festivals in the world. I know the promoter quite well, he gave us our first ever gig in Sheffield and I was so gutted – we never let people down.
You’re well known for doing a lot of hard work though so I suppose at some point the pressure must tell a little bit.
It was nice because everyone understood because they know that we’re that kind of band who love gigging – I hate being in the studio, I hate being anywhere else except live so it ruined me to miss them but honestly, if you knew the stuff going on – it was terrible.
I guess everyone knew you wouldn’t just do that on a whim.
It’s alright now, we’re back, and I feel good, I’m excited.
So TGTF first caught up with you at the Communion gig in London last year…
That might have been the day we got signed – I think it was, in fact. That Communion show – you were probably thinking, “where’s this band come from”, which wasn’t the case at all – we’d been playing to empty rooms all our lives, playing acoustic gigs for money, coming from nothing. So to be able to come off the dole, onto a deal, it was mad.
We played T in the Park the other week, and I was nearly crying! You know singers are supposed to be cool onstage, well, I came offstage thinking, “That gig was amazing but I’ve just ruined any credibility I’ve ever had!” I was trying to sing the songs, but I couldn’t because I was laughing my head off. We started playing ‘Kathleen’ and everyone was bouncing and singing and I literally couldn’t get my words out because I was so overwhelmed by it. Yeah, it blows me away. My Dad brought me up very much based around live music, I’d go to see people like Van Morrison and be genuinely blown away, so when I can see a crowd doing that for us it’s unreal to me, man!
There’s always a moment at festivals when it all comes together and the tears well up, but for it to happen in front of so many people must make it even more special.
It’s just mad, a really good feeling. When I went to see Oasis at Heaton Park, I remember thinking it feels like everyone in Manchester is going to the same place – as if Jesus had come back – everyone would go to the same place. It used to be everyone was thinking about Jesus, and everyone there was thinking about Oasis. It’s just the feeling of 1,000 or 2,000 people being in a tent, going, we’re going to see Catfish, we’re going to see Catfish! I love it, it’s the best feeling in the world.
So was that always your aspiration, to be, you could say, as big as Oasis.
Bigger! Bigger than them. I want to be the biggest thing ever. I don’t see the point in it otherwise, it’s like saying you want to be a professional footballer but you’re happy sitting on the bench at Leeds. Why wouldn’t you want to be the best on the planet? I hope it doesn’t come across as arrogant when I say that, but if I was a bin man, I’d want to be the best bin man. It’s about being the best band we possibly can and getting as many people into us as possible. It’s very much about getting as big as it can possibly get. I love it all, I love everything to do with it. We’ve never been in a band to make music to sell it, we used to give all our CDs away…
I think I got a free CD at the Communion show…
That was the day we had to stop doing it! The day the record label said we need to make money! I hate being in the studio, I hate chart positions and all that stuff, I’m not fussed about any of it – selling out gigs is what I care about, and now they’re selling out – I couldn’t ask for anything more.
Your singles have been pretty well received as well, with Zane Lowe loving them…
Steve Lamacq started all that, and there’s a guy called Jason Carter who gets overlooked from the BBC, he doesn’t get enough credit, he’s been a really important person for this band. Steve Lamacq gave us our first radio play when I was 15! He called me a poetic genius when I was 15 – imagine me going into school the next day, I was like, “Told you!”
So you’re still on an upwards trajectory then – it remains to be seen how far you can go…
That’s the exciting thing – it could all fall apart tomorrow. With the album, I’m so proud of it – in the past, if someone hasn’t liked something, I’ve said, “Well, that’s because we didn’t have enough time to record it”, or whatever, but this album I’m made up with it. I want people to come up to me and say it’s garbage, I want people to feel something from it. It’s dead exciting! I hope that never stops, I hope we never get to the point where it can’t get any bigger, I just want it to get bigger and bigger and bigger, but I want to do it really slowly, because I don’t want to lose that intimacy at gigs – we stay behind after every gig. I don’t like rock stars who are aliens, when you’re wondering what they’re up to backstage. I love it when people tell me “I hate that song, it’s shite!” and we have a good crack about it. It’s really fun.
So, Oasis got to the stage when they made these huge, overblown records, do you think you’ll ever reach that stage?
I hope so. I hope we get the opportunity to make an overblown record. We’re not druggies though, so I don’t think we’ll get into LSD and grow beards and all that shit. But I hope it gets to the size where we get the opportunity to go, “Let’s make a mental record,” but I hope it just keeps getting bigger and bigger so we can keep putting music out for people. We’re not one of those bands who – at the moment anyway – want to change our sound, we just want it to be about the songs.
That’s good, because you make – I don’t want to use the word mainstream – accessible, direct, rock music.
I like the word mainstream though, I’m not afraid of it.
It’s a bit of a dirty word though, isn’t it? Appealing to the masses. But surely that’s the whole point of music?
That’s the thing – when people compare us to bands – I hate being compared to the Strokes or whatever, but I love the Strokes! If you’re comparing us to the Strokes, then go for it! I don’t mind. I don’t mind anything, because we are mainstream! When I write songs, I think “are 60,000 people going to sing this in a field”, whereas other people write songs for themselves and if other people get it then that’s brilliant. But for me I’m thinking like, “is someone going to fall in love with this tune?” or “are people going to have sex in a car to this? Are people going to be bouncing at gigs to this?” I think about all those things. So I’m not scared of being mainstream, I want to be mainstream. People have a go at the Kings Of Leon for selling out – I resent that. They got really annoyed about it, when people got mad at them for writing ‘Sex on Fire. If that song hadn’t been on the radio, Kings Of Leon fans would have been fine about it, but so what? Sell out arenas, man, get as big as you can! If you’re filling 20,000 caps a night, it’s better than doing 200.
You’re bringing pleasure to more people that way.
Music’s about making people happy and positive, it’s not about your ego or ruining your image or anything like that, so we’re not scared of being mainstream. It’s nice that you say that though, I hope we are mainstream. We’re not clever enough or good looking enough to be outside the box. So we’re very much like, while everyone else does the tricky stuff outside the box, we’ll just stay right in the middle of it and try and write really good songs.
There’s a definite lack of pretension in your music.
I think it’s because we’re from nowhere. We didn’t have anything before we got the deal, we were all on the dole and when we got the deal we still paid each other as much as the dole so it felt like we were still on the dole. So we still skimped. I love everything about it – I love interviews, I love these buses [we’re sitting upstairs in a double-decker bus converted into a media centre], we got free pies, man! Pie Minister! I couldn’t afford a pie at one time, and now I’m getting free pies! It’s ace.
It sounds like you’re really enjoying it.
I couldn’t be happier. It’s the time of my life. But it’s nice that people like you have seen us that long ago because I’ve been doing interviews lately where they’re asking “so you’ve just blown out of nowhere, last week?” You would have seen us about 2 years ago [in reality it was 18 months ago, but neither of us were exactly sure at the time]. My Dad was there that day. He used to have to drive us everywhere, and we sacked him and he got really offended. He drove us to Germany non-stop, for 16 hours or something, and we had to sack him or I thought he’d die in our presence. So I had to sack him before I killed him!
And with that, our time is up with Van McCann. Who wants to be bigger than Oasis, isn’t afraid of being mainstream, and loves a good pie, especially if they’re free. Their gig later on is one of the highlights of the festival, and McCann’s charm works wonders on the sodden crowd, warming them through with an unexpected Rod Stewart singalong. Only 18 short months since we last saw them, not only are Catfish And The Bottlemen on the list of British guitar bands, they’re not far off the top of it right now. Give it a bit more time, and unlikely as it seems, Van McCann might be closer to achieving his dream than you might think.
Kendal Calling 2014 was wet, windy and wild, but that didn’t stop it being one of the finest weekends of the festival calendar.
Anyone considering a trip to the Lake District at any time of the year would be well advised to anticipate bad weather, as Kendal Calling 2014 demonstrated all too well. At times, revellers were treated to a rendition of the classic “four seasons in one day”: heavy rain, followed by strong winds, then a glimpse of blue sky and sunshine before the rain returned again. Rinse and repeat.
Some people had grokked that it was raining and muddy and wore wellies and raincoats. Others appeared not to notice, sporting flimsy trainers and T-shirts that were soon overwhelmed by the weather. Those who were either already insane or induced to be so by the party atmosphere positively relished the conditions, to the extent of indulging in mud-diving, mud-fighting and indeed, mud-hugging. On this evidence, anyone who tells you rain spoils a festival needs to have a rethink.
In between the mud-love there happened to be some music. Kendal has within its modestly-sized site a plethora of stages: the commercial-biased Main Stage, the new indie bands on the Calling Out stage, the pretty Woodlands stage, in addition to hosting longtime external collaborators Chai Wallahs and Riot Jazz. The compact nature of the site – you’re never more than 10 minutes away from the other side – means it carries a significant advantage over mega-festivals where it feels like one spends most of the day trudging from one far-flung stage to the next.
The big news this year was the opening of the main arena on Thursday night, for the benefit of those who paid a bit extra for early entry. And who better to get the place rocking than everyone’s favourite funk ‘n’ soul (and friend to TGTF) DJ Craig Charles? In truth, technically, he’s no better than the chap in your local boozer spinning the silver discs of a Saturday night – there’s little attempt at anything fancy like beatmatching – but what Charles lacks in technical skill he far more than makes up for with sheer unbridled enthusiasm, standing up on the desk, exhorting the crowd into further frenzies of funk-induced revelry, his set heavy with classic soul and climaxing with a Dimitri From Paris’ remix of Michael Jackson’s ‘I Want You Back’ by which time a random gaggle of lucky punters had been invited up on stage, dancing with DJ Charles in various states of inebriation and undress. The party had well and truly started.
Kendal’s campsites are true melting pots of those brave souls who risk staying up beyond the witching hour to for the simple pleasures of shared song and story… and beer and whisky. If you don’t want to be kept awake by a tone-deaf rendition of ‘Wonderwall’ at 3 AM, then the quiet camping area is a must. Never fear, your correspondent was on hand to ensure that at the very least the guitar was properly tuned – no mean feat at such a late hour. After so much anticipation, Friday morning couldn’t dawn soon enough, and after such a fine prelude, it had finally arrived.
Stay tuned for more coverage from Martin on this year’s Kendal Calling coming soon on TGTF.
No review of Deer Shed would be complete without mentioning the various extra-musical activities available for the under-16s. And where to begin? Perhaps on Sunday, when the musical offerings are relatively modest, to help the crowd wind down, and to let the kids’ activities, rather than the adults’, prevail. There was shaker-making (sadly not to the soundtrack of Oasis’ ‘Shakermaker’), badge-making and flag-making. There was a real-life yellow submarine, which hosted any number of interactive workshops. There was actual jousting, on horseback and everything. There was a beach. For the older ones, there were electronics projects, Minecraft, soldering for girls and the mildly disturbing Tedroids. There was hula hooping, swingball and lots and lots of bubbles. Best of all, the famous enormous cardboard boxes were there to age-independent glee, hand-decorated and constructed into elaborate, surreal, child-sized cities. It’s impossible to imagine a more perfect child-friendly festival experience. And by virtue of the new-for-2014 Obelisk stage and bar, subtly located in a nook behind the kids’ tents, Dad can sneak off for a quick premium ale without too much fuss.
As Sunday drew to a close, and tired children napped in homebound cars, thoughts turned to Deer Shed’s short but happy history, and where it might go in the future. The site has been subtly rearranged every year, but seems to be settling in its current format for now. There’s no doubt that the essential details have been resolved – the stage names and locations, the excellent food outlets, the plentiful camping areas – all satisfyingly top quality. The big question for this writer is – where will the music policy head in the future? The good news is Deer Shed has its finger firmly on the pulse of the zeitgeist, unfailingly booking acts just as their careers are taking off, so it’s as good a place as any to work out who next year’s big names will be as any.
However, various online hints suggest that the curators enjoy their guitar music, particularly around the punk/new-wave spectrum, and whilst those genres are an essential part of festival programming, this year seemed more guitar-oriented than last, and that’s perhaps something of a shame. Sac ‘n’ Pip demonstrated that there’s a powerful appetite for a bit of urban music in the Yorkshire countryside, so more of that please. There’s loads of scope for more country, dance-funk, electronica and after-hours ambient. And not to mention that Saturday night headliner… I wonder what Jarvis Cocker is doing this time next year?
And sticking with the Js, why not Just Jack, Jon Allen and John Shuttleworth? Keep the guitar bands in the tents, and funk up the main stage. The truth is, however, Deer Shed could stick on a couple of buskers for half the bill (or, goodness forfend, The Lancashire Hotpots) and still people would flock to it. Because there’s something about the atmosphere, the site and the families, which remains unmatched anywhere in festivaldom. And I’m willing to wager that for 99% of the audience at Deer Shed, that’s what keeps them coming back year after year. Here’s to Deer Shed’s 6th birthday.